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The scale of the Covid-19 ‘disinfodemic’ exposed in first global survey of journalists

On 13 October 2020, the Journalism and the Pandemic Project from the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University published the first large-scale global survey of journalists since the Covid-19 pandemic began. 

The first 30 findings published in the report this week are based on responses from more than 1,400 English-speaking journalists from 125 countries. The year-long project will publish several reports in the coming months.

One of the main conclusions of the report is that many journalists who have covered Covid-19, at great personal risk, have been struggling to cope. 

“Seventy percent of our respondents rated the psychological and emotional impacts of dealing with the Covid-19 crisis as the most difficult aspect of their work.” 

A similar number (67%) identified concerns about financial hardship as a significant difficulty, while the intense workload was ranked the third biggest challenge, ahead of social isolation and the risk of actually contracting the virus.

“Thirty percent said their news organisations had not supplied a single piece of protective equipment for field reporting.”

The most significant need identified by respondents (76%) was funding to cover operating costs (including salaries).

Another top finding was that almost half of respondents (46%) identified politicians and elected officials as top sources of Covid-19 disinformation. They also pointed to Facebook as the most prolific enabler of false and misleading information within the social media ecosystem.

81% said they encounter disinformation at least weekly, with more than one-quarter identifying false information many times a day.

“The barrage of disinformation and misinformation that our respondents said they were confronting in their daily work testifies to the scale of the ‘disinfodemic’ accompanying the disease itself,”

Dr Julie Posetti, Professor Emily Bell and Dr Pete Brown, the authors of the report, concluded. 

In June, the International Observatory of Human Rights organised a webinar in partnership with the International Center for Journalists moderated by Dr Posetti on how to combat the disinfodemic that Covid-19 has exposed and exacerbated.

On a positive note, the report highlights that 43% of the respondents said they felt there was increased audience trust in their journalism during the first wave of Covid-19.

This is good news. Trust is vital in order to combat disinformation, particularly during a time of crisis. If trust decreases, people turn to alternative sources that often peddle conspiracy theories, promote misinformation and, at worst, spread false information deliberately intended to mislead.

This summer, the International Observatory of Human Rights interviewed Sally Lehrman, founder and CEO of the Trust Project which has brought together technology platforms and news organisations to increase trust and transparency in news. 

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